The Declining Fish Stock Problem
The codfish were so thick in the water that “a boat could hardly be rowed through them.”
So said explorer John Cabot in 1497 as he described one of the world’s richest fishing grounds—
the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. By the late 1600’s, the annual catch of cod at Newfoundland
had reached almost 100,000 metric tons. During the next century, the yield doubled. Today,
however, the situation has changed dramatically. The codfish stock is so depleted that in 1992
the Canadian government imposed its own ban on Atlantic cod fishing, leaving an estimated
35,000 people looking for work in other sectors. In 1997 the moratorium is still in effect. But
where did all the codfish go?
The seas contain an unlimited supply of edible fish, or so we thought. We are finding that
some fish species are largely exhausted, fished out of the oceans (Berg & Hager, 2007). What
has been responsible? Modern fishing vessels are like “floating factories” with their own canning
and freezing equipment aboard, can handle and process more fish. Some have a storage capacity
of more than 10,000 gross tons. As Greenpeace says on their website, “The ships are fitted out
like giant floating factories - containing fish processing and packing plants, huge freezing
systems, and powerful engines to drag enormous fishing gear through the ocean. Put simply: the
fish don't stand a chance” (http://www.greenpeace.org). Special transport boats often bring in the
catch for the fishing vessels, allowing them to remain at sea. The trawler’s greatest advantage
thereby becomes its ability both to travel a long distance and to stay at sea for up to a year.
Hundreds of such boats operate today out of the world’s key fishing spots.
In some fishing waters, ranked as among the world’s best, are many modern travelers,
employed by the Soviet Union, Japan, Spain, Germany, and other nations. Today, virtually all
the species for which those waters are famous suffer from drastic over fishing. As the fish